Members of Marine Security Guard Detachment Karachi demonstrate a method of carrying an injured person without a stretcher during Karachi’s Emergency Preparedness Fair, Feb. 25. Photo by Narendar Kumar
By Rylan Hussey
“If we wait until an emergency to prepare for an emergency, it’s too late,” said Consul General Mark Stroh.
Stroh’s mantra for emergency preparedness rings true for all U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. It is particularly important in Karachi, a vibrant city and home to more than 20 million people and the economic heart of Pakistan. Karachi is susceptible to earthquakes and floods, and multiple terrorist groups are active in the region.
For these reasons and more, the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi takes emergency planning seriously. While emergency planning is the hallmark of every Regional Security Office (RSO), knowing what to do in an emergency is the responsibility of the entire consulate community. Consulate-wide drills, emergency action plan (EAP) updates, and regular emergency communication and medical training are part of the routine. A recent half-day, community-wide Emergency Preparedness Fair, organized by ConGen Karachi’s RSO and the Community Liaison Office (CLO), helped everyone sharpen critical response skills and better prepare for the worst.
RSO and CLO aimed to keep attendees involved and interested by covering a wide variety of topics, tools, and skills. The Preparedness Fair included eight outdoor subject-matter stations set up across the consulate grounds. While observing COVID-19 social distance protocols, the stations included: a consular section presentation on the fly-away kit; an overview by the CLO on go-bag preparation; a joint Information Resource Management-RSO emergency radio and satellite phone communication session; a facilities demonstration on emergency fire door operation; an interactive exercise by the Marine Security Guard Detachment on how to transport injured personnel with and without a stretcher; a simulated motorcade attack response with armored vehicles and consulate bodyguards; and RSO presentations on emergency medical care, body armor, and chemical/biological emergency response hoods (for Chemical/Biological/Radiological incidents) and emergency escape breathing device hoods (for use in a fire).
The community may already have been aware that the consulate had emergency equipment on hand, but the fair gave them the knowledge and hands-on experience to locate and use it correctly. To engage everyone in the conversation and underscore that preparation is important, organizers enlisted multiple sections as presenters, not just the RSO team.
After dividing up the entire community of more than 150 U.S. and locally employed (LE) staff into blended groups of approximately 20-30 U.S. and LE staff, Deputy Principal Officer Matt Ference gave opening remarks where he set the tone for group preparedness, noting, “emergency preparedness starts with all of us.”
Regional Security Officer Zach Zittle echoed Ference’s remarks stating, “to prepare for and respond to a crisis effectively takes the entire community.” The groups then rotated through each station, while RSO staff and members of the consulate community delivered presentations and gave hands-on demonstrations.
RSO Foreign Service National Investigators and other LE staff subject matter experts were enlisted to provide Urdu and Sindhi translation at each station to make the information accessible to all. The largest turnout was from the facilities management section, including groundskeepers, custodians, and technicians.
“As the largest non-security section, they have the greatest ability to assist the community during an emergency by helping treat and transport injured personnel and communicate with external responders,” said Zittle.
Several LE staff commented they were grateful for the opportunity to participate, that they wanted to help and learn more, and noted that many had not previously been provided this level of emergency preparedness training.
In the wake of a traffic accident several weeks following the fair, one LE staff specifically highlighted the training, saying,“I did not panic in that tense moment and kept my [composure] …I give credit to the trainings that RSO and [the Health Unit] provided us to prepare for such situations.”
Everyone involved in the roll over crash—passengers, drivers, bodyguards, and security personnel—knew their roles and how they could contribute to the health, safety, and security of all involved, and it paid off.
RSO and CLO plan to institutionalize the fair and present it again in the fall, following the summer transfer season. Post leadership hopes to also invite contacts from the American school and other diplomatic missions to participate to bolster their readiness for an emergency. RSO is working to integrate different aspects into consulate-wide drills to reinforce and refresh the training provided. RSO’s Pakistani police contacts, invited to observe the training, were impressed by the variety of emergency procedures and skills being taught and not only planned to bring some of the lessons back to their organizations but also requested RSO assistance in providing some of the training to their team.
“Increased capacity building is not only a great way to strengthen our relationship with police contacts but also to increase their ability to respond in general to an emergency and integrate with our response in specific,” said Zittle.
Although it is impossible to cover all aspects of emergency preparation in one afternoon, ConGen Karachi’s staff is confident the time spent will help the consulate, as a team, hope for the best and stay prepared for the worst. To close out the day, Stroh congratulated the team and the attendees and thanked the community for its attention and enthusiasm.
Rylan Hussey is a career development officer at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security in the Office of the Executive Director.